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The only problem is that doing so requires having clients in the first place. So what do you do if you’re new to ESG consulting and need to establish credibility with little to no experience? There are four stages of building credibility you can access and leverage as you accumulate knowledge and experience.
When I decided to leave a well-paying job to pursue sustainability consulting more than 15 years ago, I had to get creative about establishing myself as credible. My previous job meant I had some transferable skills, but I was a long way off from being seen as credible in a field I was still exploring.
I’ll never forget that first call. I had no idea what type of questions they would ask to assess my credibility so I came up with a few examples to showcase my skills and subject matter knowledge based on what I’d learned up and experienced up to that point. I also made sure I was able to validate their concerns which showed I understood their perspective and provided them with examples of how other companies had dealt with similar issues. I was clear about the process we would go through to achieve their desired outcome (which in this case was a sustainability report) and this demonstrated I had a well-thought-out process for working together.
Everything we do to establish credibility falls into four primary categories.
Think outward-facing image. Is your website content clear and engaging? Do you have an up-to-date Linkedin profile? Do you present a professional image in person or over video conference? The first thing I did before launching my consulting business was start a blog. Facebook was still only in universities back then, and Linkedin wasn’t yet a thing so I used the platform available to me. I was reading and talking to a lot of people to learn as much as I could, and it made sense to organize it somewhere that others could read.
When I finally launched my business, the blog allowed me to reference something that gave me surface credibility and made prospective clients comfortable talking to me about their needs, and over time, they have come to see me as an expert. Today, there are many other platforms to establish surface credibility such as a podcast, e-books, and social media.
Reputed credibility refers to how people you’ve worked with perceive your abilities. What do others have to say about you, your work ethic, and your quality of work? Do you have testimonials that highlight the type of skills and experience you offer? When just starting out, you can lean on transferable skills until you’re able to work with ESG clients.
I started with a core skill (writing) and built a sustainability consulting offering around it, so even before I had my first consulting client I was able to gather testimonials about my ability to write effectively, and manage complex projects on time and on budget. This helped establish a baseline of reputed credibility until I was able to build up my portfolio of ESG work with clients.
Do you have loads of followers on social media? Does your LinkedIn highlight recent, positive testimonials from people who have worked with you? Do you have a visible online presence? These types of accomplishments can create presumed credibility because your work and experience are visible and therefore it is presumed you know what you’re doing.
Shortly after I launched my blog (from a small desk wedged between my washer and dryer), people started reaching out to me asking if I could organize networking events. I convened a group each month that met to discuss all things related to sustainability. Over a few years, I met and learned from subject matter experts, authors, and business leaders who were in the trenches and understood what it meant to make sustainability work inside companies. The visibility through the networking events allowed me to establish presumed credibility and build a stable of people I could contact with questions as I worked with clients which was very helpful.
Earned credibility is the culmination of the other three types of credibility. It takes a while to establish and requires working with several clients for a consistent period of time, but it can lead to referrals, speaking opportunities, and other forms of visibility that earn your company new business.
I don’t remember the exact moment I experienced earned credibility in my business, but I distinctly remember the first time my mother referred to me as a “sustainability guru” to one of her friends. It only took her 12 years! ESG consulting offers continuous opportunities to learn, share and grow and by doing so, you will build up your credibility at every point along the journey.
Take our ESG Consulting Quiz to see if you are ready to bring sustainability consulting into your practice.